Sheriff hopefuls get high marks for candor
Published 9:16 pm Tuesday, October 22, 2013
Newspaper endorsements of political candidates have always struck me as the height of media arrogance.
Just who are we, as publishers and journalists, to tell readers how to cast their votes?
A more sacred obligation, it seems, is to fully inform readers about the candidates running and their positions on important issues. You then have the facts you need to make a choice at the ballot box.
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That’s our aim with a series of news stories, beginning on today’s front page, about the candidates for sheriff of Suffolk: incumbent Raleigh Isaacs Jr. and challengers Aaron Johnson and Jen Pond.
News Editor Tracy Agnew, who covers city government for us, sat down with each candidate over the past week and delved deep into their qualifications, their goals if elected, and their critiques of one another.
We could have taken the easy road, as many newspapers are doing these days with election coverage, emailed the candidates a few questions, and printed their polished responses. It would have made for dull reading. Face-to-face interviews are livelier and more substantive. They give us the chance to ask follow-up questions when answers are confusing or incomplete. They test candidates’ knowledge of the issues and their ability to think and communicate on their feet — important qualities in elected officials, who too often are elected on rehearsed sound bytes and catchy slogans.
To their credit, Isaacs, Johnson and Pond handled their grillings well. Each fielded tough questions, often about controversial issues that have surfaced during the campaign.
Isaacs manned up about his adult son’s frequent skirmishes with the law. Pond laid it on the line about her abrupt departure from the Suffolk Police Department last year, even letting Agnew read the contents of her city personnel file. Johnson candidly addressed an internal-affairs investigation by the Newport News Sheriff’s Office of allegedly improper use of his badge in a political campaign.
The interviews will make for interesting and informative reading over the next three days. We’ll also report on the candidates’ campaign finances: how much money they’ve raised, where it came from, and how they’re spending it.
When we’re finished, undecided voters will have additional information to help make an informed choice on Nov. 5. Decided voters will very likely learn some things they didn’t know previously. That’s our job in an election — to enlighten, not to influence.
Steve Stewart is publisher of the Suffolk News-Herald. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.